Interview: Courtnay McLeod, Scottish Media Academy
DRIVEN to “do something different”, Courtnay McLeod is seemingly locked in a race to create a unique feature in a media landscape caught in the vortex of new technology.
Launched in the middle of last year, the Scottish Media Academy has already brought nearly 200 people through training courses spanning the converging worlds of online, print, radio and television communications.
It has swiftly moved into profitability, but its director is pushing for more, with immediate plans to expand into the market for business training.
“The corporate work is about developing the business to its full potential, increasing profit and providing services that don’t already exist at a time when they are needed,” McLeod says.
A former presenter on Border Television who later moved into academia, McLeod was frustrated by the gap between theoretical learning and the real-world demands of a media career. The two often do not meet up in the way they should and she believes the discord is being exaggerated by the evolving role of new media.
McLeod was finally pushed into action about 18 months ago by events at home. Her eldest son, Ellis, now seven, was using an iPad to put together a report on dinosaurs. His sister Lois, now four, was complaining because she wanted a touch-screen computer rather than one with a keyboard. Meanwhile, youngest sibling Esmie, then just ten months old, had figured out how to unlock mum’s iPhone so that she could look at pictures of herself.
“Children are seeing through this technology,” McLeod says. “To them it is not magic. The combination of my frustration at work and what I was seeing at home got me thinking about doing something different.”
She approached Graham Bryce, managing director of Bauer Media Scotland, with an idea to set up an operation dedicated to bridging the divide. As it turns out, Bryce – whose company owns Scottish radio stations including Clyde 1, Forth One, Northsound and Radio Borders – had been having similar thoughts.
McLeod left her post at Edinburgh Napier University and began working full-time at Bauer in March, putting together what was billed at its launch three months later as the first media academy of its kind in Scotland.
Tutors include long-established names from Scottish journalism, with professionals from Bauer’s stable of radio stations working alongside their counterparts from print and television, including Billy Briggs and Rona Dougall. McLeod – who is also a visiting professor of media at the University of Sassari in Italy – also brought in top names from media education.
The past year has been a blur of activity, she concedes, but it seems McLeod wouldn’t have it any other way. What’s more, the response has been positive, with all but one of the courses offered so far filled to maximum capacity.
“The feedback has suggested people feel it is excellent, which is important to me, but also that they recognise it as being something different, and a valuable learning experience,” she says.
Courses covering the spectrum of media channels are available to anyone aged 15 and over, and are divided into programmes for beginners and those at a more advanced level.
The academy also provides training sessions in schools down to primary level, plus media training, consultancy and team-building days for corporate clients. Overarching it all is a commitment to a multi-media approach.
Talented young people have already emerged from the courses, but the academy doesn’t cater solely to those looking for a media career.
“What I have been surprised by is the spectrum of people who have enquired about courses,” McLeod says. “We have had parents who want to know more about what their children are doing with social media, and people who want to know how to use media tools in starting up their own business. Media skills are relevant to everybody now – a good blog is the equivalent of a good CV these days.”
The academy has also done some corporate work, including training on interview techniques for Waitrose managers and consultancy support on the Go Think Big campaign for young people to improve their communities, which is backed by Bauer and mobile phone firm O2. Alongside these, the academy has developed a team-building experience that McLeod describes as “much more” than an awayday.
On these, groups of between six and 20 people spend the day making a radio show about their company’s products, services or strategies, which gives them the opportunity to gain new skills while focusing on the goals and priorities of their employer. In addition, the resulting radio programme can be used for future in-house training.
McLeod shuns any suggestion of “off-the-shelf” techniques, emphasising that every event is tailored to meet specific objectives with tangible results.
“We understand the business element as well as the media element,” she says. “That is part of what makes this really exciting for me.”
Education: Edinburgh University, Edinburgh Napier University’s business school
First job: As a journalist with Radio Borders
Ambition while at school: To go into advertising or journalism
Car you drive: Audi
Kindle or book? Tried Kindle, but I prefer a book
Can’t live without: My children, a notebook and pen – but I could live without my mobile phone
Favourite place: Sassari, in Sardinia, Italy
What makes you angry? People not engaging or not being focused.
Best thing about your job: Everything – I have made it myself, so if I don’t like it I can only blame myself.